To enjoy hatred unqualified

Let’s start with the unalienable facts. First, a programming note of sorts: There’ll be no Friday Q&A today and this week’s Sandwich of the Week may be delayed, as I’m heading out of town for the weekend for a rather grown-up obligation down south. I expect I’ll ultimately enjoy myself, eat some delicious barbecue, see some old friends and traverse new swatches of the country. But it is a somewhat grim responsibility regardless, and something unexpected that will pull me away from the sickening lovefest surrounding Chipper Jones’ final visit to New York as an opposing player that was long circled on my calendar.

Second: Here on my desk I have a two-page agreement granting ownership and “absolute rights” to “all drafts and versions” and the “blueprints, patterns, instructions, codes and other information necessary to create” a freelance piece I wrote that is not available online about the relationship Mets fans have with Chipper Jones. I haven’t signed it yet because themes covered in that piece – as detailed in the following post – come from the core of my sports-fan soul, and I fear inking away the rights to those blueprints and patterns could in some way damn this career in its nascent stages.

But the check cleared nonetheless, and that sweet freelance cash helps put the sandwiches on the table. Plus said contract flatters me by referring to me throughout as “the artist,” and everyone involved on the editorial side was extraordinarily agreeable throughout the process. So I will have to tread carefully in the following post. The missing scenes in Larry Wayne Jones’ history with Mets fans, omitted here for legal and professional reasons, are the same that are likely burned into the memories of every Mets fan about my age — all those who suffered so frequently and so savagely at the hands of the Braves’ turn-of-the-Millennium dynasty and its prevailing superstar.

Third: Chipper Jones was one of the greatest baseball players of his or any generation. He was an eight-time All-Star and an MVP-award winner, and his 81.5 bbWAR ranks 31st all time. Though injuries slowed him late in his career, he never finished a single season as a below-average hitter by park- and league-adjusted OPS+. He will wind up with a lifetime on-base percentage above .400 and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He was straight-up awesome at his job, and I hate him for it. In fact, if pressed, I could probably count on only one hand the people I have never met that I dislike more than Larry Jones who have not committed actual atrocities.

About that: I have twice tried in earnest to meet and speak to Chipper Jones to temper that hatred. This profession, for better or worse, humanizes both the heroes and the villains of your youthful fandom. It’s something you rationally should always know, but something that smacks you in the mouth regardless when you see, on your first day with a credential, a chagrinned but still very friendly Jimmy Rollins taking responsibility for a crucial error, and something that is reiterated every time you see Bryan McCann enjoying a peanut-butter sandwich or Carlos Beltran grimacing in pain or Dan Uggla giggling at a blooper on the clubhouse TV.

The first time I tried to meet Chipper, I stood in a cadre of reporters around his locker in the visitors’ clubhouse at Shea Stadium after a game in 2007. He pulled on a mock turtleneck, turned to the group and somewhat contentiously stated that he wouldn’t be answering any questions that day. I didn’t know it, but he was upset about a headline in the New York Post that had taken something he said out of context to make it seem like he suggested Alex Rodriguez took steroids, so my attempt to ameliorate or modify my distaste for the man would have to wait.

The next time I tried to meet ol’ Larry Jones, I was working on the aforementioned freelance piece earlier this season. I arrived at Citi Field hours before game time and waited at the clubhouse entrance while all his teammates streamed in and did baseball-guy stuff. When he finally arrived, I approached him, alone, and requested some of his time. He asked for a minute, walked over and whispered something to some of his teammates, then skulked off somewhere, never to return. He blew me off. Whatever.

Lest you think this is that particularly obnoxious and oblivious type of media screed that admonishes a player for eschewing the media, I should note that I’ve heard from multiple veteran members of this city’s press corps that Chipper Jones is one of the very best guys – if not the very best guy — in baseball, to the media and to everyone else. My understanding is that he’s typically candid, friendly, funny and approachable — a great teammate, a great family man and a great patriot. And rationally, based on the information I have, it’s easy to believe that behind the beady eyes and loathsome smirk there’s a damned good dude, and that he blew me off that morning to rescue puppies from kill shelters and distribute them to disabled veterans.

But being a sports fan is rarely rational, and to justify the type of emotional toll fandom can elicit requires complex mental leaps beyond the scope of this already too-long post on an afternoon I’m trying to sneak out of town. Chipper Jones was a great player for the Mets’ biggest rival while I was growing up, and he seemed, way more than most, to revel in the hatred his stellar play earned him from opposing fans. That all makes sense to me, even makes me feel like something of a rube for buying so readily into his inarguably vain trolling.

What I don’t get is why one man — and, again, by most accounts a good man and by every account a great ballplayer I should be thrilled to watch play baseball – should somehow still have the capacity to turn my stomach, even now after I’ve learned to understand and make peace with far, far heavier things.

So it seems funny to me, and perhaps perfectly fitting, that adult and professional responsibilities will prevent me from experiencing and reasoning through a catharsis in his final series with the Mets, because none of the ill feelings I harbor toward Larry Wayne Jones are adult or professional. They live someplace deep and demented in my soul – maybe some long-embedded socially coded vestige of tribalism or something – and when I think about it, I have no real inclination to watch the Israelites send the never-felled Goliath off into retirement with a commemoratory cowboy hat or surfboard.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying: Maybe some things are better left not got. Maybe, in my increasingly reasonable, adult, professional and psychologically balanced life, I shouldn’t need to have everything sorted out so neatly, and maybe I’m OK allowing this one remnant of youthful fanaticism to slip through unchecked this one time. Maybe it’ll prove useful somehow, or maybe I’ll just want to remember how it feels to enjoy unqualified hatred.

In other words, good riddance to bad rubbish. F— ‘em.

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